Practice Management

Hospitalist groups explore use of medical scribes


 

A workaround – or a problem solver?

In a 2015 Viewpoint article in JAMA,3 George Gellert, MD, MPH, MPA, former chief medical information officer for the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa health system in San Antonio, Texas, and his coauthors labeled the use of scribes as a “workaround” that could curtail efforts to make EHRs more functionally operational because their use allows physicians to be satisfied with inferior EHR products.

In an interview, Dr. Gellert stated that he hasn’t changed his views about the negative consequences of scribes on EHR improvement. “The work of clinicians in using and advancing EHR technology is presently the only method we have for massively distributing and ensuring the use of evidence-based medicine,” he said. “That in turn is a critical strategy for reducing high rates of medical errors through a variety of decision-support applications.”

For better or worse, EHRs are an essential part of the solution to the epidemic of preventable, medical error–caused patient deaths, Dr. Gellert said. He also believes that substantial progress has already been made in advancing EHR usability, as reflected in the most recent product releases by leading EHR companies. However, considerable evolution is still needed in both usability and optimization of clinical decision support.

“With respect to your readers, my recommendation is to not use medical scribes, or else delimit their use to only where absolutely required. Instead, develop systematic processes to regularly capture specific physician concerns with the EHR being used, and transmit that critical information to their EHR vendor with a clear expectation that the manufacturer will address the issue in the near term, or at least in their next major product iteration or generation,” Dr. Gellert said.

Dr. Christine Sinsky, vice president, professional satisfaction, American Medical Association

Dr. Christine Sinsky

By contrast, at the Management of the Hospitalized Patient conference in San Francisco in October 2015, Christine Sinsky, MD, FACP, vice president for professional satisfaction at the American Medical Association, identified documentation assistance as a helpful intervention for physician stress and burnout.4 In a recent email, Dr. Sinsky called documentation assistance “the most powerful intervention to give patients the time, attention, and care they need from their physicians. The data entry and data retrieval work of health care has grown over the last decade. Sharing this work with nonphysicians allows society to get the most value for its investment in physicians’ training.”

Dr. Sinsky calls documentation assistance – such as that provided by medical scribes – “a logical and strategic delegation of work according to ability for greater value,” not a workaround. She said it makes patient care safer by allowing physicians to focus on medical decision making and relationship building – rather than record keeping.

Experience from the front lines

Eric Edwards, MD, FAAP, FHM, of the division of hospital medicine at the University of North Carolina’s Hillsborough Hospital campus, recently presented a poster on his group’s experience with medical scribes at a meeting of the North Carolina Triangle Chapter of SHM. Their research concluded that scribes can be successfully incorporated into an inpatient hospital medicine practice and thus increase provider satisfaction and decrease the time clinicians spend charting.

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